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Best Tacoman: Steph Farber

Farber has been a pillar of Tacoma's arts scene

PHYLLIS HARRISON AND STEPH FARBER: They make dreams come true. Photo credit: Pat Snapp

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There have been countless movers and shakers who have made Tacoma what it is - business people, artists, corporations, state officials. Some have impacted the city short-term, others have stuck around and fought the good fight for decades, seeking to make the community all it can be. One such community member is Steph Farber, who just happens to be both an artist and a business man, co-owner of LeRoy Jewelers and The Art Stop with his wife, Phyllis Harrison.

In the last 40 years, he's served two terms - for a total of 24 years - as president of the Broadway Center, served on the boards of the Children's Museum, Theater District Foundation, First Night and just recently joined the board of the American Leadership Forum.

Farber has been a pillar of Tacoma's arts scene - even through the 1970s, which were a less than ideal time for arts in T-town. Farber tells of a time when stores were fleeing the downtown for the brand-spankin'-new Tacoma Mall. The city of Tacoma tried to revitalize by setting up the Broadway Plaza, which failed massively.

"By the end of the experiment, LeRoy Jewelers was the only business left on the block between 9th and 11th," he says. "Crime throughout the city was high and there was definitely no sense that the downtown belonged to the citizens.  Actually, there was really no place in town that acted as the place where Tacoma ‘was'."

The 1970s were a pivotal time for the arts in T-town as well. While Tacoma had a strong arts scene from its very early days, when downtown fell into disrepair, so did its arts. The grand Tacoma Theater/Music Box burned down in the 1960s. The Pantages was called The Roxy throughout the 1970s and was not the lovely theater it is today, but instead was rather nasty and rundown. While the Seattle Symphony would come down for concerts and Tacoma Art Museum also toughed out the decade, he states that "Tacoma" and "arts" were largely mutually exclusive.

But in 1983, that changed with the reopening and transformation of the Pantages Theater.

"When the Pantages opened in 1983 a couple of things happened," says Farber. "First, the community discovered that there was, indeed, a serious audience for the arts. Second, they discovered that 1,100 ‘blue-haired ladies' leaving the Pantages at 10 at night was more than enough to chase off the drug gangs, which had plagued the community for so long. And the community found it once again had a center, a place where people gathered for celebrations like First Night, or for sorrow, like the public gatherings following 9/11.  The community also realized that it had the power to change things."

While Farber was not on the original Pantages board, he joined in the theater's second year - and set out to work on helping improve the theater's failing business plan by marching on City Hall and asking for financial help.

"Failing that, we would give the city back the keys to the theater," he says. "Being a big fan of empty gestures, I happily took the opportunity to join. Surprisingly, the city acceded to our request and I was on the board for the next 24 years."

As one of his most lasting accomplishments, Farber led the search for a new executive director for the Broadway Center. Farber put together a search committee of board members, reps from local organizations and funders, and interested citizens and together this intrepid group searched far and wide, eventually unanimously selecting David Fischer, who has led the Broadway Center to new heights.

Farber has also had a lasting impact on improving and expanding Tacoma's New Year's party - First Night. Even though it takes a full year to put together Tacoma's New Year celebration, he says there is nothing as rewarding as seeing the diverse crowd that gathers to ring in the New Year.

In Farber's many decades living in our fair city, he's seen many changes to the artsy power of T-town - a blossoming of our arts scene, if you will. Everything from the museums that have set up in town, to an explosion of awesome festivals, to the many artists who join in the local farmers markets. He's also played a role in many of these changes, bringing a focus as a businessman, as someone who believes all individuals in a community should be heard, and as a community member who believes the people need a place to call their own.

"In Tacoma, you don't need an important name, you don't need an exalted office, you don't need lots of money to accomplish great things," he says. "In Tacoma, you need only to have a dream and the willingness to work and that dream can become even greater than you first imagined.  In this city, anyone can make a difference. I've seen it done. I've done it."

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